Chana Masala Monday, Mar 1 2010 

Just add this to the list of things I feel like I can make myself, sans recipe, simply because I maybe ate it once somewhere and vaguely remember what it tasted like. You already know about my overconfidence when it comes to recreating something I’ve eaten before off the top of my pretty little head. I won’t lie to you – there’s really no reason for it. But I get an idea, and I fixate on how I think something should taste, and how I already know how to create that taste/texture/je ne sais quoi and then…and then it just snowballs from there. And suddenly I blink and I’m standing at my stove tasting this whatever-it-is that I’ve made and lo and behold, it is what I was going for, even if I’m the only one who will appreciate it as such. And does it really matter if it’s completely and totally inauthentic? Or if I’m missing a key ingredient or two? Not really; or at least, not to me.

When I discovered how much I desperately love Indian food a few years ago, the entire cuisine was pretty much a mystery to me. I couldn’t identify any of the flavors beyond, um, curry powder, and I had no idea what half of the words on the menu meant, let alone how one might go about pronouncing them. But I perserved, and as I waded through the meaning of words like paneer and fenugreek and came out on the other side, I was a changed woman. And by “changed woman,” I mean one who knows her way around the Friday Buffet at my favorite Indian restaurant, thankyouverymuch.

All Most kidding aside here, folks, I really think that receiving this book changed the way I approach Indian food.  Now that the spices are already in my cabinet, I’m not afraid to use them.  And now that I’ve smelled and tasted each of them independently, they no longer have that mysterious, confusing air to them – I’ve become as comfortable with them as I am with basil and red pepper flakes.  Oh, and cilantro?  Yeah, it now grows in a little flowerpot on my bedroom windowsill.  Curry convert?  I think so.

Chana Masala

I’ve seen this dish approximately everywhere I’ve looked in the last few weeks.  So much so that it was all I could think about at work on Wednesday.  And while I feel completely confident in my version, those who tend towards the sour, more mango powder/lime juice-heavy versions should certainly add some.  Myself?  I’m not really a sour kinda girl.  I’m more of a burn-my-face-off-and-make-me-sweat-from-chili-peppers kinda girl.  And this dish definitely has that going for it.

1 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp butter

1/4 large, white onion, diced

1 tsp garlic, minced

2 small, fresh chili peppers, minced (if you’re nervous about the spiciness, start with one pepper, or even a half of one)

1 can chickpeas

1/2 – 1 tsp garam masala

1 (15-ounce) can of whole plum tomatoes

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2-3 tbsp whole milk, half and half, heavy cream, or coconut milk

Rice

Cilantro (optional)

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with the oil.  When butter is melted, add onion and cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add chili peppers and cook for another minute, then add tomatoes and spices.  Crush some of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon (you want it to be chunky, so don’t mash them) and turn the heat down to medium/medium-low.  Add milk/cream and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Add chickpeas, and bring the mixture up to a boil.  Once you reach a boil, return heat to medium and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Spoon over rice and garnish with chopped cilantro.

And Then There was Curry Thursday, Jan 21 2010 

Ok, so besides the risotto I’ve made twice in the last week to a) hone it into a coherent, workable recipe (or at least the beginning of one), and b) eat it for as many meals (four) as was humanly possible, I’ve been eating a lot of Indian food.  No, not because I’m pining away for the take-your-breath-away spiciness of Brick Lane‘s cuisine (although I am).  No, not because in the last few days, I’ve bought five or six spices I’d never used (or been able to pronounce) before.  And no, not because I’ve renounced my love of gnocchi and red wine.

In fact, it’s all this man’s fault.  Actually, it’s largely this man’s fault as well.  See, for Christmas, Boyfriend really went all out with the cookbooks.  He took every hint I’d been subtly alluding to blatantly bombarding him with for the past several months and bought me the two cookbooks I’d wanted most.  He also gave me my own cookbook, which he created from the content of this very blog.  I guess I’ll have to keep him around, huh?

Anyway, he’s either trying to tell me that he loves me and wants me to be happy in my little food-crazed bubble, or he desperately wants me to learn how to cook Indian food and bake lots of bread.  I’m going with the former, though he has seemed a little distraught that I’ve been cooking things without his being around to taste-test.

So I’ve made a lot of curry in the last few weeks, and honestly, it’s been fantastic.  I was a little wary of the book to begin with, as there are spices listed in these recipes that I’ve never even heard of, let alone tasted.  But the writing is so clear and descriptive that there’s little room for error – and even in my I-want-to-change-recipes-I’ve-never-cooked idiocy, I’ve yet to screw one up.  And trust me, I’ve done some major substitutions so far.

So look forward to seeing some curries up here in the near future (don’t worry, we’ll get to the bread, too) – and start checking your grocery store for curry seeds, paneer, tumeric, saffron, fenugreek, holy basil, jaggery…

Squash Curry Tuesday, Dec 1 2009 

First of all, yes, I know it’s December and I don’t have to post every day anymore.  But I’m impatient, and this was too wonderful and too easy not to share.  And NCIS isn’t on because of Obama’s speech…but how about you humor me and go along with my first reason, mkay?

When Boyfriend was home, we (unfortunately) ate out quite a bit.  I say unfortunately not because it wasn’t all fantastic (it was) or because it broke the bank (it didn’t), but because I lost out on the chance to cook for my favorite taste-tester.  Instead of spending our evenings making the kind of food we both love to eat, the week became a whirlwind of seeing friends and family, and left me with barely enough time to change out of my work clothes.

The flip side of eating so much food cooked by other people is that it completely renewed my devotion to the kitchen.  We ate a lot of unique things last week – things that made my mind swirl with possibilities and drove me into the kitchen early this week to see if I could recreate any of my favorites.

Unexpectedly, it was actually the Butternut Squash Curry we picked up while beer shopping at Wegmans (by the way, if you have a Wegmans in your area and it has a liquor store portion, go there now – they have a surprisingly extensive craft beer collection, and everything is very reasonably-priced) that really stuck in my brain.  It was simultaneously sweet and spicy, and the squash gave it a deceptive, satisfying richness.  And floating amongst the stewy curry were the teeniest, tiniest, most perfectly-cooked shrimp.  We had filled only a quarter of our take-out container with the curry, and I’m not exaggerating when I said we fought one another for the last bite of it.

When I attempted it in my own kitchen tonight, I wasn’t expecting it to blow me away.  Primarily because I, um, didn’t use a recipe; partially because I’m stubborn, and partially because I would’ve changed up anyone else’s recipe far too much.  I never, ever have whole spices, tumeric, or smoked paprika – all of which are prerequisities for curry in most recipes.  But I did have a battery of other spices at my disposal, and since curry powder, cayenne, and paprika were among them, I decided to wing it.  I also didn’t have the eensy little shrimp that were so sweet in the first curry, but substance-wise, they weren’t terribly important to the overall taste.

And boy, was I ever right about all those thoughts – I didn’t miss the shrimp, and I certainly didn’t care if it was a proper curry.  It was damn good. And honestly, it couldn’t be simpler to make: there’s maybe 10 minutes of active cooktime here, so even though it needs about 45 minutes on the stove, it doesn’t need to be babysat.  I have no doubt that it would improve with age if left in the fridge overnight…not that I’ll ever know, since I ate every last bit of it tonight.

Sidenote to my darling Boyfriend: not only is this super easy and so delicious, but you can freeze it.  Or refrigerate it.  Or eat it all at once.  And if you have the spices, it’s literally 3 ingredients – I think your grocery budget can absorb that.

Squash Curry

I think I used a kabocha squash, but Mom can’t remember what the sign said, I can’t remember what she told me, and we’d already used part of the squash for something else so it wasn’t whole.  Regardless, I think the kabocha would be a good choice, as would the butternut, but I would venture to say that any winter squash you have (I’m looking at you, CSA participants) would would work.  Also, I didn’t think that this was terribly spicy, but Mom did, so you might want to dial down the spices a bit until you taste.

1 cup beef stock

1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed squash

1/4 small white onion, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp paprika

Over medium-high heat, pour the stock into a pot.  Add all of the spices, stir, then add the squash.

Cook, partially covered (let some of the steam out, or it’ll bubble over), for 45 minutes to an hour, until the squash is soft.  Once it starts to break down, mash the chucks that haven’t come apart against the side of the pot.  You don’t have to get crazy with this – you want it a little lumpy, and if you’d prefer, you can certainly leave all of the squash cubes together and have it a little chunkier.

You can also cook it longer than that – up to 1 1/2 or 2 hours if you’d like, though I only let mine go for about 50 minutes, so I can’t attest to what happens that long into the cooktime.  I imagine that you’d want to cook it a bit lower if you were going to keep it on the heat for that long, or maybe just turn it down to low after the squash starts to disintegrate.

Either way, once you’ve gotten it to the consistency you’d like it, taste and season, then eat. I had mine over some roasted potatoes, but anything would work – other vegetables, rice, quinoa…use your imagination.